Advancing the Conversation on Systemic Racism

Article | July 2020

Advancing the Conversation on Systemic Racism

A compelling discussion with David Cordani, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, and Carolynn Johnson.

Cigna and DiversityInc partnered this week to host a powerful discussion about systemic racism and pervasive inequality in America. Featured panelists included Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President and Dean, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Cigna CEO and President David Cordani. The discussion, moderated by DiversityInc CEO Carolynn Johnson, focused on how people of all races can be effective allies to create both equality and equity for Black, Brown and other minority communities.

Racism is “Nothing New”

Racism has always existed but up against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of George Floyd’s death sparked outrage and activity unlike years past.

Magic Johnson said that what the Black community is facing is “nothing new,” but this time is different because people of all colors, all over the world have come together to protest.

“Young people have mobilized, come together and have a strategy that didn’t happen in the past. They want real change and we’re starting to see that happen right before our eyes,” he said.

Not only that, the protests have inspired individuals, communities and organizations to have difficult conversations. Cordani added that Cigna is using this time to slow down and listen intently.

“We are motivated to listen, to engage, and then to act. We want to harness this energy and make sustainable, long-lasting impact,” he said.

Improving Health Outcomes

Health disparities and social determinants of health can negatively impact health outcomes, occurring frequently in minority communities.

“Making quality and culturally competent health care available and accessible to the Black community, and giving patients what they need, when they need it is the first step to overcoming health disparities,” said Dr. Montgomery Rice.

As a global health service company, Cigna plays a role in improving health equity for all communities.

“To us, the answer is deeply personal. We serve 180 million customer relationships around the world. Every ethnicity, every religion, every sexual orientation, every aspect for every dimension. It all comes down to personal, local partnerships with physicians, and then using the information to proactively identify how we can reduce risks and improve an individual’s health,” said Cordani.

Cordani also discussed the powerful role that microcommunities play in an individual’s health and well-being. He described a microcommunity as the power of one person or a few that can establish common goals, put a strategy in place, execute the plan, overcome obstacles, recruit resources and provide support.

Diversity in the Workplace

“We do not tolerate racism, we do not tolerate bias. If we see it, we either engage and educate or remove the individual. It’s a belief set,” said Cordani.

He also added that Cigna’s independent Board of Directors is 50% diverse, and while it took work to accomplish that “when you believe it’s the right thing to do, you can do the work.”

Cordani also shared that Cigna has leadership development programs that include training, coaching, and mentoring.

“We have many opportunities in front of us and we’ll never declare victory,” said Cordani on continuing to encourage diversity at all levels in the organization.

Moving Forward

To end the discussion, Carolynn Johnson asked each panelist to reflect on how individuals can show up as an anti-racist.

“Everyone has to educate themselves on what’s been going on, not just George Floyd but even before that. The more you know, the more you can drive solutions to the problems. And however you are comfortable with driving change, then that’s what you should do” said Magic Johnson.

“Listen, engage, and then roll of your sleeves and get to work. In this COVID-19 time, you will do yourself a disservice if you don’t create a space to learn. Learn about why some people have their certain perspectives because it might help you with some of your biases and then ask others to go on the journey,” said Dr. Montgomery Rice.

“Stop, listen, and understand. Sometimes the charged environment causes us to fixate on what’s different as opposed to finding similarities. What’s deeply rooted in all human beings are points of commonalities that drive us. When you find points that are in common, great things can happen,” Cordani said.

Click here to watch the discussion in full and learn how Morehouse School of Medicine is working to improve minority representation among health care providers to improve health outcomes, how Magic Johnson’s company is helping Black and Brown business owners keep their doors open and employees paid during the pandemic, and more.

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